Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writing Advice: Getting Through The Tough Parts

I was recently interviewed by a book blogger who asked an important question about the writing process. She wanted to know whether, when I come across a difficult area while writing, I put it aside and wait for inspiration to hit, or push through it and tweak the scene later. This is an issue that writers often face. Here's my answer:

There are some scenes that I completely see and hear in my mind before I start writing—that’s inspiration. There are other scenes that are harder to put together, and those are the “rough areas” that you mentioned. I typically try to tough it out, and in doing so, I often get an “a-ha!” moment, which is also inspiration. I think that if you wait for inspiration, you’ll never get a novel finished. It’s best to tough it out and improve the more difficult scenes during revisions.

Every writer has his or her own unique process, and this is mine. If I hit a bumpy area, I put on my imaginary hiking boots and tromp through it, even if this means a lengthy stare at a blank computer screen. These are the moments in which my office goes silent after hours of furious typing. Sometimes I fill the silence with music (my stories always have a playlist!) which is a great way of getting into the setting and the characters’ moods. During these times I often learn more about my characters, and this can lead to unexpected bursts of inspiration. And I love the unexpected bursts…but I have to work for them.

Inspiration is a tricky thing. It’s so much easier when it appears out of nowhere, when you least expect it, when you’re driving your car or unloading the dishwasher, and suddenly a scene is playing before your eyes as if you’re watching a movie. It’s exciting when you have to search for paper and a pen to capture a line of dialogue that popped into your ears like a gift from the Literary Fairy. (Another tip: always keep a notebook around! Crazy as it sounds, you never know when your characters will decide to talk to you.)

The interesting thing is that when a manuscript is finished, I can’t even tell which areas came from the kind of inspiration that was spontaneous, or the type that was hard-earned. Of course I remember which scenes were particularly pesky, but after revising and revising and revising some more, those rough areas are so smoothed out that I can’t distinguish them from the ones that gave me no trouble at all.